The Human River

I had a Russian circus coach in his sixties, Alex, who could still do standing backflips.  He was able to pluck you out of the air one-handed if you were about to land on your head; it was like being caught by an oak tree.  He looked like a bear, he walked like a zombie, and his secret to maintaining his form was taking good care of his intestines.

People have strange ideas about how their bodies function.

It was a Russian coach fad at my school; fasting one day a week and fasting one week a month.  It was all part of a solemn ceremony which culminating in a glorious herbal enema to keep your colon clean, supple, and rubbery like a nubile squid.

I wasn’t ready to go that far, but he afforded me this advice:  Eat a grapefruit every morning; don’t eat anything cooked, never talk during a meal, always eat meat last, and enjoy a handful of organic peanuts before physical activity (softdrinks are poison, and processed food is good to make your stomach feel full, but it won’t do anything for your body).

He was my teacher, I listened, and it made sense, at least when training 12 hours a day like the good circus school students that we were.

This kind of ascetic eating regimen fit with his personality.  Even his sense of humor:

One day, the denizens of a small village awoke to a loud, rhythmic pounding.  Each pound was punctuated by a man’s screams of pain.  The villagers, shivering in the morning chill and dressed only in their nightclothes, left their huts to find the source of the screaming.  In the middle of the public square, a man was repeatedly striking his phallus [Alex always said phallus when he told this joke or any other joke that featured a penis.  He always lowered his voice and blushed a little when he said it.  Ever seen an embarrassed bear?] with a blacksmith’s hammer.  The patriarch approached the man to ask him why in the world he was punishing his member so.  “Doesn’t it hurt terribly?”  “Of course,” replied the stranger, “but nothing compares to blissful respite that comes between each strike.”

My Lithuanian roommates have explained that this is actually a very Eastern European kind of joke.  They tell another one that I like:

A wife walks out onto her porch where her husband is looking at the sky with a serene smile on his face.  “Why are you so happy?” she asks.  “Our neighbor’s house is burning down.”

I told this joke in Boston to a mixed audience of Canadians, Americans, and Bulgarians, and sure enough, the Bulgarians laughed while the North Americans waited for the punchline.

My point was that people have lots of different theories one how to best care for their body.  The FDA of America has a great one, which happens to be very different from that which is professed by their Japanese counterpart.  But I think that having your own cartoonish view of the human body is helpful, as long as it makes sense to you and it keeps you healthy.

For me, I believe that the key to everything is water.  Lots of water.  If I can keep a steady flow of water through my body, I find I can train harder without being sore the next day, I am more flexible, I have more energy, it is easier to maintain my weight (or lose weight when necessary), and I can drink alcohol with no ill effects in the morning.

For me, I see the body as a riverbed which is constantly polluted by our everyday actions (like every other riverbed you have ever seen).  If you can keep that river flowing at nearly flood levels, all those pollutants (lactic acid, alcohol, excess nutrients, etc) will be washed away.  I also see water as a sort of lubricant for cells, particularly muscle cells, that help them to work more efficiently.

I know that this is all a huge oversimplification and sounds a lot like a placebo (based strongly in sports medicine and common sense, of course), but it does serve as a nice little feather to hold onto when I force my body to do impossible things.

Underwater, No One Can See You Sweat

And speaking of new things, I have discovered swimming as a form of exercise.  I never understood how to enjoy it before, and would splash back and forth from wall to wall until I got bored.  Now I understand that it is the time pressure that makes it exciting; trying to swim 20 lengths of the 25m pool in 10 minutes and barely making it, trying to decide if you can fit in just one 30-second break, etc.

I also never really saw it as a strengthening activity, but after just 10 minutes and a half a kilometer, I saw myself in the changing room mirror and was surprized to see that my upper body looked as though I had been lifting weights for an hour!  On the plus side, I was not sweaty, I was not overheated, and I was not too tired to train handstands for two more hours.  As an added benefit, I was completely warmed up, so after a 5 minute soak in the 42 degree (celsius) ofuro, I was perfectly primed for 30 minutes of full flexibility training.

This is one of those moments when 15 minutes of a new type of training can improve your productivity in the gym in unforseen ways.  I want to work up to being able to swim a kilometer in under 20 minutes over the next year.

Diet Week 3 Update

Halfway there.  I seem to be losing about a kilo a week; well in the safe range for weight loss.  The biggest problem is that I notice my energy is generally low, which means that sometimes I tell myself I will just take a little nap and end up sleeping through my training time.  This happened two times last week, and that combined with my post-acupuncture rehabilitation made for a very poor showing indeed in the training department.

But still, it seems like another two weeks or so and I should be back to my college weight of 58 kilos!

As a side note, I calculated that my current lifestyle has me burning about 2784 calories per day.  Compare this to the average daily calorie consumption of an equilibrist at circus school: 5500+ (!).

You can figure out your daily calorie expenditure here.

While you’re at it, you can see how many calories you are consume on a daily basis here.

Or how many calories you burn doing various activities.

Quick reference (Calories burned in 1 hour assuming 130lbs weight):

  • Moderate biking: 472
  • Stretching: 147
  • Vigorous weight training: 354
  • Jumprope: 590
  • Jogging: 413
  • Swimming: 427
  • Gymnastics: 236

I really believe that the most important factors in weight loss and control are: getting at least 2 litres of water a day plus any water you lose during your training (measured by weighing yourself before and after training and drinking the equivalent weight of water), cutting caloric so that you are about 1000 calories below your expenditure, and forcing yourself to train even though you are sure to feel too tired.  Aim for shedding a kilo a week and you will not be disappointed.

Dieting and the Aging Acrobat

 

I am on a diet.  It is not the most natural or fun thing for me; but I guess I must be getting older.  This aging manifests itself in strange ways; for example:

Strength: I still gain strength very quickly, but the retention of that strength is much attenuated.  I used to be able to maintain form for roughly a month after heavy training, but now, a week or so off and I weaken noticeably.

Flexibility: Flexibility, on the other hand, is much more difficult to develop as well as maintain.  I used to feel like if I took one week off of flexibility training, it would take me two weeks to get back to my previous level.  Now, one week off can translate to a month or two of dedicated training to get back up to speed.

Technique: Strangely enough, my handstand technique is the one aspect of training that seems to be improving with age.  It is easier for me to maintain stable handstand positions for longer periods.  Before, a shaky 10 seconds at 80% success rate in the classical one-armed position (see picture) was great.   Now, a stable 20 seconds is the norm.  It seems to support my theory that this particular acrobatic discipline is largely mental in nature.

Weight:  I have always been able to eat as much of whatever I want without gaining appreciable weight.  This is still true, but I find as though my equilibrium point has shifted a bit.  I used to settle in at around 58 kilos (128 lbs), but now my natural state seems to be at around 62 kilos (136 lbs).

So that is it.  I have not been able to exclude the possibility that some of these shifts are due to being two years out of circus school rather than being two years older as the lifestyle difference are obvious:

Circus School:

  • Average of 10 hours a day, 6 days a week of intense physical training.
  • Home-made, meager, low-fat meals.
  • Drinking only on weekends, maybe once a month.
  • Nearly insurmountable stress (external and internal).

Developing Projects in Asia:

  • Average of 2 hours a day, 5 days a week of intense physical training.
  • Restaurant food picked up on the run from meeting to meeting.
  • Drinking with friends whenever we have a free moment to meet, maybe 3 times a week.
  • Nearly insurmountable stress (only internal).

But the fact that my handstands themselves are improving is still a little mysterious to me.  Perhaps it is like riding a bike, only there is infinite room for improvement.  Perhaps it is just the different levels of stress; these two hours a day are often pure meditative joy, as compared to the often tortuous feel of my hours spent in training in Montreal.

I should also mention that after only four days of moderate dieting, I am well on my way to my goal of 58 kilos.

Diet Rules:

  • Weekends, I can eat whatever I want.
  • Weekdays, I can eat whatever I want for one meal, but:
  • No snacks at all
  • Only drink water or tea (alcohol is especially verboten, dame, interdit).
  • Moderate hunger and grumpiness at all times is a good sign.
  • The other two meals, no meat, minimal carbohydrates.
  • Weekends, I can eat whatever I want.

One I get back down to 58, I am going to forget all rules, increase my training regimen (July promises to be full time training for four weeks; no outside distractions – I must promise myself!), and switch to monitoring mode.

Anyways, all submitted for your approval.  All theories are welcome.

Big Dreams And Self-Doubts

My life right now is made up of just three things:

Meetings. 

I have so many meetings – straight up business style, e.g.  suits and money – that is it.  Fucking crazy.

Training 

Training is the most humdrum side of the life, actually, me, alone, in a crappy municipal gym.  Sure, there is some nice scenery from time to time; the foreign hostesses like to come in on their breaks and use the step machines…  but I’m really just there as short a time as possible.  Get shit done and then get on with the other 20 hours of my day.

That said, my handstand number is really getting nice.  It helps to train outside of school and outside of a show.  Just to train and do the technique because it is what you do.

Still, I wish there was more space in japan though, to move and to run around and to dance like crazy movement style…  it is nice to take an hour a day to just do flexibility, though…  it is very calm.

Writing

This writing is just a vestige of the acting days… I still feel like someday i am going to spit something out onto a piece of paper that might make someone smile or change their mind about something, and so I keep at it.  Think of it as the other half of the training.

Planning and uncertainty

Next year is taking form so much more slowly than last year… it takes a year to get anything confirmed, and I am just getting in on the ground floor of this brand-new building, so there is all this uncertainty and confusion combined with the hopeful feeling that I might be able to do something new with this place…

I guess if Taiwan is the plan, I’ll be here until mid-January, and then I’ll need to find something until March.  I was hoping to be in the States soon, after all… I am really feeling like I need a roadtrip.  it is hard to take one of those when you are on an island that is smaller than California.  And you don’t have a car.  Maybe I’ll take some time to put this one-man show together that I have been working on the last couple of months…  It could be really small, like 40 minutes, I think, but I could do it in my hometown with some other artists in the show and split the money…  just to get out of this business mode that I have been in the last six weeks.

Gymnastics in Tokyo

My new project is to put together a video of my entire career in 3 minutes.  It’s quite a task… to make these things easier in the future, I will be keeping all my “best tricks” in an easy-to get to video format.

It is funny looking at all these old circus videos of me from the last three years. I really have gotten better…

But I have developed tendonitis in my left shoulder by overtraining a little bit.  Hard to believe that I’m almost feeling like training is a chore – I remember the good old days when this shit was fun!

Still, it’s not bad – and it feels so good.  I’m training a bit with the Tokyo University gymnastics team, and about three hours a day just for my handstand number and to try to look a little sexy for the girls.

Lethargy And Paralysis

Lethargy has become the rule of the road for me now.  What road?  The road that winds me through the life that I no longer feel in control of.  I am lost now, and free at the same time.  I feel and see my body wasting away, unfed by the nutrients or the exercise that they are so used to.  At the same time, what it has for the first time in many years, is rest.  But it is so frustrating to see the work that went into keeping my body in shape to do what it needed to do, and to see that after just a bit of loss of focus, it can fall around me like a suit that fits too loosely…

The answer, of course, is fanatical dedication to a new regimen, one that dictates fatigue as being roughly necessary to the process of improvement.

And where, in all of this, does the notion of fairness or honesty to the people around me, specifically, those people who care about me or who wonder where I have disappeared to, what it is that I am doing?  Where is the idea of a narrative, of a character?  How do we know if we have an idea of genius or just one of stark convenience… maybe no one has ever done something like this simply because the idea is too damned pedestrian; too damned boring.

So this is my pledge to myself…

I will be at the gym for 4 hours a day, starting tomorrow.  I will leave the house before noon in order to do it.

I will email everyone on my list.

I will take this as a profound and deep failure on my part if I am unable to carry out these simple pledges to myself.

There will be no game-playing, there will be no wasting of time.  I will eat when I am not hungry, and I will drink when I am not thirsty.  I will take my vitamins, and I will write three thousand words a day because I claim to be an artist, an acrobat, and I need to take such things seriously!

Perhaps it is time to put things into perspective, perhaps it is time to take matters in hand.

I will be tired, I will be unhappy, and I will be bored, but I will have some sense of necessity in my life.

I remember being at a Famous Amos stand in the subway mall of Taipei and hearing a perhaps over-enthusiastic manager of the tiny cart remarking to my companion something about something that made her mention the fact that she had lived in Africa.  He says that life is simple there.  She says, “Yeah, real simple.  People’s kids dying all the time…”  he doesn’t understand her English.  He pauses.  He smiles and says in Taiwan, people have lots of heart attacks.  She seems to see his point.  I don’t.  but I don’t see hers either.

I agree that the world is a messed-up place, and I am the first agree that we need to do something about it, but at the same time, I think that we need to accept these little injustices without drama for the time being.  People die more in some countries than other.  Of course, looking at these things from a humanistic perspective gives us a lot of pause, but at the same time, we need to have the option, and only the option, of looking at it in a more detached way.

I need to write an email to The Contortionist now, and in it I need to include a white lie.  It is about why I did not email her last night as I am trying to email her every night.  I will tell her that my roommate suddenly fell ill and my other roommate and I had to take her to the doctor’s office.  That is not a lie, that is really quite true, but we did that in the morning.  The evening, she was still healthy, and we engaged in wine drinking and general revelry until the wee hours, and that was why I did not email my girlfriend.

I don’t know exactly what it takes to have a girlfriend in the world any more, at least when you are living outside the norms of a regular address, a phone that works, and a group of friends that you can disappear into.  Will I miss this instability if I am ever to actually sit down and have a more stable life?  Will that life be just as stifling and soul-killing as this one is feeling for me?  Maybe the world itself is a stifling one, and this sense of despair that I am feeling is just some sort of metaphysical entropy, and it is exactly this sort of decay that we need to steel ourselves against to keep living as “beings,” and not as “beens.”

I want to meet my future head-on, standing straight and tall against the winds, not feeling like I need to destroy the city of Tokyo with an earthquake just to feel better about my writing.

What are the balls that are in the air right now?  A modelling agency that is not responding to my numerous emails, a job from Adco that may or may not have me exploring the corporate side of entertainment, a job offer from a man that I met at a Lithuanian film festival who may or may not be interested in engaging me in a job that has me once again performing acrobatics for Toyota, of all possible clients…  I have my number itself, which comes and goes in terms of how viable it seems, I have a possible grant which can take me possibly to Mongolia, to Bulgaria, to Lithuania, if my contact there ever decides to write me back.  I have the idea to teach something at my old university, but so many of these little attempts keep coming back faced with a wall of white, insurmountable silence.  Silence in the form of unanswered emails.   Makes me realize exactly why people need phones and face to face in the real world these day.

I need to make handstand blocks, I need to make new DVD’s I need to write emails, I need to train, I need to feel a zest for life and to feel that sort of poetic cloud that can sometimes well up and swallow my head whole.

I think that it comes from new environments, though, and what are my new environments now?  There seem to be none.

Handstands, ironically enough, is a discipline that requires stability in more ways that simply on your hands, inverted.  We also need the structure in our lives to fit in a bit of training here or there.  Once the number exists, we can run through it once a day in an hour, given that we have the space and the discipline, but once the technique falls by the wayside, you are trying to work your way up a hill… I guess I really need to focus my training now on the number and them concern myself with training later.

This is the way to go, I guess.

But god, it would be nice to look at myself in a mirror naked again and like what I see.  What I see right now is mediocracy at best.

I feel forgotten, like a rocket that burned brightly, arcing over a hill where no one can see it anymore, and even less people care.  I like the notion of a journey, and I like certain images in my writing, but in the end if I cannot harness it all into a tale of some sort, if I cannot craft what I am writing into a format that someone else would want to read, I am lost.  Floating in space.